Joseph Rehmann, the proprietor of Victory Farm. The farm keeps fish under the cage and pond systems. PHOTO | ELIZABETH OJINA | NATION MEDIA GROUP
By ELIZABETH OJINA
Sindo Beach in Homa Bay County is scenic with clear waters that stretch yonder.
Unlike most of the other beaches, it is perhaps the only one that is not infested with the hazardous water hyacinth.
It is on this beach that Victory Farm is located on leased 40 acres. The farm keeps fish under the cage and pond systems and is owned by Joseph Rehmann, an American and a friend.
After a 10-minute ride and about a kilometre from the shore, we reach a set of 50 square cages.
“The water depth here is about 30 metres, which is good for cage system but there are challenges with deep waters because monitoring becomes harder. The deeper you go, the more expensive it is to monitor the fish,” says Rehmann, a finance expert.
The square cages are made from steel and blue 200-litre floaters.
“We have two sizes of cages, 3m by 3m and 6m by 6m with stock capacity of 50,000 to 100,000 fish. We buy steel, nets and ropes from a hardware in Kisumu and fabricate cages ourselves,” says Rehmann, a father of two.
His dalliance with cage technology started in Ghana, where he was also keeping fish in Lake Volta.
“I worked with my business partner at Tropo Farm in Ghana for several years as the Chief Financial Officer. Then I came to Kenya in 2015 and a conversation with Maina Gichuri, a former Director of Fisheries who has since died, lured me here. Gichuri encouraged me to invest in the country and I did not let him down,” recounts Rehmann, noting he had to acquire licences from county fisheries department, KenInvest, Nema, and get a National Letter of Authorisation.
STARTS EARLY IN THE MORNING
Ghana and Kenya, according to him, are among the best countries in the world for growing tilapia.
“Ghana’s Lake Volta offers warmer waters with more consistent temperatures while Kenya’s Lake Victoria offers an enormous body of water, but higher elevation means cooler waters which can slow down fish growth,” says Rehmann, 32, noting he started the business in Kenya in June 2016 with his business partner Steve Moran, a fish expert and an American, injecting in Sh1 million capital.
Fred Asem, the cage manager, says they feed their fish three times a day, twice in the morning and once in the afternoon.
“We buy feeds from a local manufacturer and mix with imported ones. A stock of 25 tonnes of imported and 15 tonnes local feeds can lasts us many months. In a week, the fish consumes 200 20kg bag of feeds,” says Asem.
Feeding the fish is a process that starts early morning with weighing feeds needed per cage.
“We have two, four and six months old fish. Normally we load the feeds into the boat and distribute them to all cages.
Then check the water temperature, oxygen levels, water clarity and clean the nets to avoid clogging,” explains Asem, adding they had their first harvest last month, getting a metric tonne of fish.
Currently, they harvest about two metric tonnes of fish every week at 400g using scooping nets, and put in cooler boxes and ferry to the shores of the lake.
There, they count and sort them according to size, scale and take out the intestines.
Thereafter, they ice the fish and transport to Ruaka in Nairobi.
HUGE OPPORTUNITY IN KENYA
“We opened our cold unit in Ruaka, Nairobi in February, where we place the fish and sell in our biggest markets in Kibera, Kangemi and Gikomba and hotels and restaurants,” says Rehmann, who holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Notre Dame in the US and an MBA from INSEAD in France.
Market women buy the fish from Sh350 to Sh400 per kilo while hotels such as Mummy Dadas, Pepono Springs and Citywater Hotel buy at Sh450 per kilo.
The company also runs a hatchery producing 200,000 fingerlings per week.
Linda Bonna, the hatchery manager, says the tilapia egg has a survival rate of 80 to 90 per cent and should be hardened in earthen ponds.
“We harvest eggs from the female’s mouth and take them for incubation where they stay until they reach the fry stage. When they are 0.2g, we take them to the cages for production,” says Bonna.
The farm employs 60 men and women from Sindo village.
Rehmann says there is a huge opportunity in Kenya, where 6 per cent of Lake Victoria waters can feed 45 million people easily with the tilapia consumption.
Tilapia, according to him, can be cornerstone for sustainable food sufficiency, solving malnutrition the numerous challenges.
Blue green algae attack
Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute Kisumu director, Dr Christopher Aura, says the disease is caused by bacteria known as cyanobacteria and thrives in area with high nutrient load.
“Using sinking feeds leads to decomposition. The bacteria helps in the breakdown of sinking feeds leading to low oxygen level. Often the fish suffocate due to low oxygen levels,” says Dr Aura.
He advises farmers to clean the nets.